Revisiting My 2008 Search Predictions

The holiday season is a time for both celebration and quiet reflection. After the roller coaster of a year SEO has had, there’s room for a little of both.

Before we take a look at what’s coming down the line next year, I want to take a moment to review my predictions for 2008. I made no calls on flying cars, so I’m safe there — although there was a personal helicopter launched this year.

My predictions included SEO moving beyond traditional search engines, and the practice going mainstream. I also forecasted new challenges from in-house groups, less public chatter on SEO, and more emphasis on search ROI. Let’s see how I did this year.

We Went Beyond the Search Engine

With regards to SEO extending its reach beyond the search results page, I would say this prediction was spot-on. We’ve seen greater influence within mobile as the iPhone and new BlackBerry penetrate the marketplace, and the number of searches for local content hasn’t declined.

The most telling part of this prediction might be the use of social media as a SEO strategy or tactic. While this wasn’t even an SEO consideration in the past, I’ve seen several RFPs this year and fielded questions from clients specifically around using social media to enhance their search program.

SEO Went Mainstream

At the beginning of the year, I stated that SEO was starting to fall in line with traditional media. I think this evolution was even more dramatic than expected. We now see more requests for services like press release optimization and link development in RFPs in which the client’s primary interest is driving traffic to their Web site. We’re no longer just the “search-friendly” folks; we’re a profit-driver.

Without question, SEO has gone mainstream. Search has even changed our perspective on the home page. Home pages are no longer your domain or index.html page. The real home page is now the top 10 search results for your brand name; this is what users see first. Instead of a full page, you now have only 155 descriptive characters in which to convince a user to visit your Web site.

In-House Boo-Hoos, But Not Woes

Back in January, I predicted that if SEO went mainstream, more companies would staff their own in-house teams. This would mean less opportunity for agencies, especially large agencies.

While my agency has started educating clients on how to handle certain components of SEO, no clients have stopped working with us to take the work in-house. And we certainly haven’t seen a decrease in requests for work.

Thankfully, I may have projected a little too far into the future. This prediction may be a year or two ahead of its time. Looking at my bottom line, though, I’m not too upset about getting this one wrong.

The Evolution isn’t Being Televised

I also expected less public sharing and more underground groups springing up in 2008. Judging from this year’s conference circuit, I’m inclined to put this one in the win column too.

Nobody really talked about anything new at this year’s conferences, which is surprising considering the explosion of social media tactics, reputation management strategies, and sweeping search engine changes that have occurred in 2008. Each conference rehashed the same session subjects and the same presentations ad nauseam.

The lack of shared information is curious, especially as Razorfish has become increasingly transparent about its approaches to press releases, link development, and social media. Someone has new ideas out there. They just aren’t sharing publicly.

ROI is Definitely the Other Three-Letter Acronoym

In July, I wrote, “The Holy Grail of SEO,” which discussed the importance of finding a way to estimate ROI from organic search. I’ve seen quite a few requests from clients to justify a renewal to their management team, and prospects to justify budgets regarding ROI this year.

This was a pretty weak prediction on my part to begin with, as ROI will be important every year — especially in this economy. At least in 2008, we’ve successfully shown that SEO is a ROI driver. Clients seem to “get it” now more than ever.

The SEO conversation is no longer: “What do you do?” Client’s now ask, “What can you do for my company?”

What Does 2009 Hold for us?

In keeping with tradition, the next Outsourced column will cover predictions for 2009. After a landmark year for search that saw universal search become even more universal, political candidates dominate Facebook, and the mobile Web become commonplace, who knows what 2009 will bring?

With Magic 8 Ball in hand, I’ll take another stab at forecasting the future next time. Stay tuned.

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